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Following Up With a Second Act – Age Discrimination Work-arounds

Kevin’s comments on my last article, Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” – A Book Review, recently got me to thinking: the job market can be an awfully rough place for older workers. I’ve heard stories of people as young as their 40s (hardly any older than me!) being told by job interviewers that they are “too old” for the positions they are interviewing for. Even though age discrimination in the workplace is legally forbidden, employers utilize some creative age discrimination work-arounds to get around these barriers.

Age Discrimination Work-arounds

Multiple job hunters have claimed that interviewers, rather than ask for the age of the applicant, which they are prohibited by law from doing, will ask instead for the year the applicant graduated from high school, and thereby get a pretty good estimate of the applicant’s actual age.

Following Up With a Second Act - Age Discrimination Work-arounds
Following Up With a Second Act – Age Discrimination Work-arounds
Many employers, rather than utilize the accumulated wisdom and experience of older workers, would rather take on younger ones that cost less.I’ve also heard that employers prefer younger workers over older ones, simply because younger workers are more likely to “go along” with whatever the company dictates and less likely to “talk back” to their bosses. Of course, this isn’t to imply that all younger workers are super-agreeable with their bosses and all older workers are adversarial – it’s simply the reality that these prejudices continue to exist to this day.

(Editor’s Note: A more tangible reason why older workers are excluded from hiring has to do with health insurance costs. Since older workers typically file more medical claims, employers prefer to keep their staff on the younger side as a way to keep health insurance premiums lower. – Kevin)

The Recession Might Not be Over for Workers over 55

A recent article by Mark Miller at Fortune magazine, Older American Workers Are Still Struggling to Find Jobs, discusses the plight that many older workers are facing in the current job market. As Kevin and others have pointed out, economic statistics, especially on unemployment, are “slippery” at best, devious at worst.

Miller points out that while the “official” unemployment rate for workers over the age of 55 was a mere 3.5 % –when other considerations are factored in, such as part-time workers who want to work full-time, those who are unemployed and discouraged and have given up looking, etc., — the real unemployment/underemployment rate for these folks is much closer to 12 %.

Why Your Career Isn’t Over Because You’re “Over the Hill”

This absolutely doesn’t mean that older workers can’t continue to fulfill a valuable niche or find their “true calling.” Many older workers may fear that they may be “over the hill” and have little left to contribute. Consider, however, the number of individuals who found success later in life, which includes such noteworthy personalities as:

Martha Stewart – published her first books on home décor and entertainment at age 40. Before that, she spent years working in the catering business.

Rodney Dangerfield – got his first “big break” in comedy appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show at age 46. Before that, he was working as a salesman and struggling to find gigs while accumulating thousands of dollars in debt.

Betty White – the award-winning comedy actress first became a cultural icon on The Mary Tyler Moore Show at age 51.

Duncan Hines – wrote his first food and hotel guides at age 55. Before that he was a traveling salesman for a Chicago printer.

Miguel de Cervantes – published his most famous novel, Don Quijote, at age 58. Before that, he served in the Spanish navy and struggled to find work that would support himself.

Col. Harland Sanders – franchised his Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant chain at age 62. Before opening his restaurant he had struggled or failed in other ventures, including being laid off from the Michelin Tire Company.

Laura Ingalls Wilder – published the first of her “Little House” books at age 65. Before that she had worked as a schoolteacher but found it wasn’t to her liking.

Peter Roget – his book Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases was first published when he was 73. Before that he worked as a physician. Much of his work on the thesaurus was done while he was battling serious depression.

Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses – began her painting career at age 78. Before that she made embroidery and sold potato chips.

Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from these well-known individuals. If you are finding that employers are not giving you a “fair shake” because of your age, maybe the time has come to “blaze your own trail” and find your own path to doing work that will reward you and contribute to the world.

Take heart, older workers! You’re not done yet – you might just need to start getting ready for your next act!

( Photo by hnnbz )

10 Responses to Following Up With a Second Act – Age Discrimination Work-arounds

  1. (No particular offense against the author) but I hate articles like this.

    Something akin to “100 year old completes skydiving lessons!” or “Grandfather climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro!” or “98 year old still running the family laundry after 150 years!”.

    The reason these people make front page news, is because almost no other older people are doing stuff like this. And most of those older people not doing this stuff have watched many of their compatriots buried over the years.

    Seriously, how many people are going to blossom into Grandma Moses after seven or eight decades?

    To hold up these exceptions as a paradigm all normal people should aspire to, is dishonest and misleading. Most of us are just tired and worn out.

    Exceptions should not be pitched as a the norm. Stop with the self-help book mantra promoting ‘You can be anything you want, just go do it!’

    Pollyanna was a Hollywood movie.

  2. Hi Marissa – I get where you’re coming from, I don’t like such articles either. Nor do I believe them. But that isn’t the case with this article. It’s an attempt to alert readers that they may have to re-invent themselves in the aftermath of a job loss or a career crisis. There are not a lot of places for people over 50 to go in this economy, so sometimes you have to take a chance on something completely new. Also, most of the examples provided are of people under 60, with a few older examples just to prove what’s possible. People need to hear this message in this day and time. We’re not talking about climbing mountains here, we’re talking about re-learning how to survive. That’s an incredibly important discussion that doesn’t take place often enough.

    And for what it’s worth, I didn’t start my career as a blogger/writer until I was 51, so I’m an example who can testify to the validity of Steve’s claims. Me and the mortgage business were through with each other, and I had to make some serious choices. Also, I had no prior training, credentials or experience in writing, but here I am. People need to know that these transitions are possible, and that they aren’t just made up stories, or chronicles of exceptional people. Believe me when I tell you, me and “exceptional” don’t even sit in the same room. Back in high school my guidance counselor, in discussing career and school options in my senior year, gave me the kind advice, “you’re no superman”. You have to choose not to believe limiting assessments like that, even when they come from someone who is deemed to be an expert.

  3. Hi, Marissa! I can see that my article left you with some negative impressions, and I realize I didn’t clarify some things in the article as well as I could have.
    Believe it or not, I’m not really a fan of “self-help mantras” either! Life is much more messy and complicated than that, and for an awful lot of us, there’s really no easy way to navigate from point A to point B. Of course, as you mentioned, most of us will never achieve the fame or wealth or recognition of these individuals – your comment is making me think of more “regular” folk who made major changes in career at mid-life – hopefully I can bring you more of their stories in the future! And since I am always interested in hearing other people’s stories, let me ask you: what is making you feeling tired and burnt out? Perhaps Kevin or myself or others here can speak to your concerns in future articles.

  4. Hi Kevin: I liked this article, but it is true that most of us are regular people who won’t achieve great fame so to speak. But reinvention is possible and necessary, and I’m proof. My story…born and raised in a big city, great job in a fancy office environment in healthcare all my life, girly girl all the way, fell in love, moved to rural Vermont where I had a similar office job lined up, and things fell apart. The love worked out alright, but the work end was a mess. One failed job after another didn’t work out…I couldn’t keep up, they hated me, I hated them, pay sucked, no benefits, I didn’t have the computer skills…on and on. I cried when I left for work in the morning and was crying when I got home. My husband didn’t know what to do with me. I needed to earn. Fortunately, he had a very small business, and he put me to work in the office, but he wasn’t prepared for a new employee, let alone his new wife. I worked for free for four months, then started at minimum wage, and worked my way up and my job evolved. Not because he didn’t believe in me but because he couldn’t afford it just then. Long story short, I now drive a fork-lift, manage our accounts, I know more about steel, aluminum, drill bits, and machinery then I ever cared to. I’ve long ago put the girly girl on a shelf and learned to get used to grime, rust, oil, grease, tools, you name it, I learned it. Pantyhose, high-heels…what’s that? I had to learn. I don’t know what I would have done without my husband holding my hand and helping me along the way. I don’t think the love would have survived. It wasn’t easy, there were many arguments, but we’ve worked it out. This is just to say that it is tough out there for workers over 50 and reinventing oneself and relearning can be done, but it is tough. I was one of the fortunate ones because someone was holding my hand.

  5. Hi Bev – I absolutely LOVE your story! It’s a real inspiration and that’s what we’re trying to do on this site. I get what you’re saying about the transition being tough. It was certainly for me, going from the mortgage business to blogging/freelance blogwriting. There was no “path” into it, and no one showing me the way. It was really about trying this and that, and following up on any/all opportunities until I found what worked. Along the way, I was a “slash worker” – blogger/accountant, taking any contract work I could get to pay the bills. It took years, but it was worth the climb. I feel like I’ve found my niche in life and after 50 at that. Hard should never mean impossible, not if you’re committed to change.

    I think geography has a lot to do with your transition. I got that as soon as you mentioned Vermont. When you live in a large city or metro area you can live one way, but when you move to a rural area – and that’s Vermont – things change drastically. There isn’t necessarily another job up the street. Sometimes you have to create a new job, and it sounds like that’s what you did. You learned and grew into it. I’m guessing that you find your current situation more satisfying than the old one. Change is hard but it’s also empowering when you succeed. Not only do you grow from a career standpoint, but you also grow as a person when you learn that you can overcome nightmarish circumstances. Also, don’t feel bad about not wanting to even go into work on the previous job. I’ve had a few of those along the way, and I still don’t know how I got through them. Some jobs start bad, and go downhill from there. That’s one of the ways you can know for certain you’re in the wrong place.

  6. You nailed it, Kevin, when you said there’s not necessarily another job up the street. Like you, I had big changes professionally and geographically, at Age 50. I had never been to New England, let alone rural Vermont. While I love it, it was still an eye-opener. You have done well, also, Kevin, with your career change and your move to NH from Georgia. I also LOVE your story about your move and not fitting in where you were and how your family had to adjust. I would love to hear more about that and from others who have uprooted themselves, at any age, and what they did to overcome. And yes, I do find this new work far more satisfying, bizarre as that sounds. While I love my new life, job, and location, I sometimes feel isolated, like I’m the only one out there who has done that. I know that’s stupid, there’s millions of us, but it helps to connect to like-minded folks. Thanks for your blog and letting me vent. I love everything you write. Keep up the good work…it’s much appreciated. Now, I have to go clean some grimy aluminum!

  7. Kevin…here is quote you may find inspiring. “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life and in change there is power.” -Alan Cohen

    I keep this posted at my desk to remind me every day that I did the right thing. There’s also another quote by Goethe that talks about how things all come together when one decides to commit oneself. Providence moves and all doors open to you. I don’t want to take more of your blog space, but you can Google it…you’ll know it when you see it.

  8. Hi Bev – Thanks for the accolades! But I want to zero in on what you said here because I think it’s incredibly important: “…I sometimes feel isolated, like I’m the only one out there who has done that. I know that’s stupid, there’s millions of us, but it helps to connect to like-minded folks”. I think it points to a broader society-wide issue in our culture.

    Charles Hugh Smith wrote that an Arab Spring is probably not possible in America because of a lack of perceived shared experience. He wrote that the Arab Spring – revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere – was possible because people in those countries have a sense of shared experience. That is, they have a sense of community that includes negative experiences. When they suffer, they do so communally.

    By contrast, he wrote that in America we tend to internalize our troubles. For example, during and after the Financial Meltdown millions of Americans experienced job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcy, but rather than sharing the experience with others in the same situations – and demanding political reform – we instead acted as if each experienced was something unique, something shameful. Our culture is very skilled at convincing us that our troubles are our own fault. Sometimes that’s true, but certainly not always, particularly when millions are having the same experience.

    Somehow in our culture it’s preferable to “suffer in silence”. That really helps no one. Not us and our recovery, nor does it allow others to benefit from our experience. Each struggle becomes it’s own isolated thing. When I got into blogging I decided that the best “story” I could tell was the one about my crash-and-burn, and eventual recovery.

    We need more of that, and that’s why I like to encourage you and others to come forward and tell your own stories. Yes, each is unique in its own way, but collectively, they’re actually quite common. So a big thanks to you and to others for sharing your stories.

  9. That quote is very inspiring. Here’s another that I like:

    “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” – Ambrose Redmoon

    My feeling is that we become deeper people when we experience troubles in life. We’re also tougher and more resilient, but at the same time more compassionate. For example, in my pre-crash life, I never gave to the homeless. Now I do it when ever I can. Yes, I know some are con-artists, but I now realize that crisis/struggle is real, and usually more complicated than I once believed. I figure it’s between that person and God if they’re genuinely in need or not. There’s a Bible verse that touches on this – “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” – Hebrews 13:2

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